Do the Houston Astros have a backup catcher? If not, what do they do from here?
The Houston Astros already knew that they would be without the services of Max Stassi for four to six weeks, but it all seemed more serious when the Astros sent Alfredo Gonzalez to minor league camp. Gonzalez never really had a shot, but he was the only other catcher than Stassi and Jason Castro on the Astros’ 40-man roster. With him being sent back, it leaves two catchers to battle out for the role during the final days of Spring Training.
The two catchers are not household names in Tyler Heineman and Roberto Pena, but they should both be better defensively than last year’s backup catcher Hank Conger. The Astros acquired Conger because of his pitch framing skills, but that doesn’t help if you can’t throw runners out on the bases.
On my Astros talk show called Talking Stros, we spoke with Jim Callis and JJ Cooper about the catching depth in the Astros minor leagues. They both mentioned that the Astros have some quality prospects, but that none of them really have the upside of an everyday type of catcher. The term backup catcher came up a lot between the two, with the name Garrett Stubbs as the one prospect who could be an impact prospect at catcher.
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Eventually, the Astros could continue the plan to have Evan Gattis transform back into a catcher and serve on days where Castro needs a breather, but this is not immediately going to help the Astros. To expect someone returning from a hernia surgery to do something he hasn’t done since the 2014 season is unfair.
There are still some fans out there on a soapbox for the Astros to go out and get Jonathan Lucroy. Why? You trade for Lucroy if something happens to Castro, or he underperforms, not because Stassi is going to be out four to six weeks. Plus, this would take away from the playing time/development of Tyler White and A.J. Reed because Lucroy would play first a lot.
Who do I think will be the backup catcher for the Houston Astros on opening day? I normally agree with most of what Evan Drellich writes, but he said that Pena would be the better candidate. Nothing against Pena, but he has not seen the Triple-A pitchers that Heineman has.
Neither one has shown much power in the minor leagues, except for that one time at Lancaster. Ironically, they both hit 13 homers in the time with the Jethawks proving that the California League is a hitters’ paradise. Heineman has a higher career on-base percentage in his minor league career than Pena (.364 to .288).
Catch the Tyler Heineman interview below.
Either way, the Astros decide to go, even if they claim someone off waivers, they will have to add a catcher to the 40-man roster which currently sits at 39. The Astros will already have to add White and Neal Cotts (in my opinion), so they will need to shed some players off the 40-man roster.
While neither has run away with this job this spring, Heineman was showing life with a 3-4 day yesterday. I say give Heineman a chance and reevaluate the situation when Stassi is ready to return. Stassi was not exactly lighting it up this spring either.
**Stats from Baseball-Reference**